Night Riders: Cycling Mackinac Island after dark


On our last trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan, my husband and I decided to take our first-ever nighttime bike ride. Mackinac Island is a small island located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, in the Straits of Mackinac. It’s a picturesque vacation spot filled with old-fashioned Victorian homes and hotels, historic sites, natural landmarks , and touristy kitsch. No motor vehicles are allowed and all travel on the island is by foot, bicycle or horses. Since there’s no car traffic to contend with, it’s a great place for a night-time bike ride.

Dave, rechecking our gear.

We ventured out about 9 PM on a Saturday night. The island was alive with night life – music swelled from the entrances of the bars and restaurants. The streets were full of visitors out for a late night stroll or a bite to eat. We donned out bike clothes and checked out lights and bikes for safety. We didn’t want to end up trying to change a tire in darkness or discover that our lights did not work halfway around the island.

Once we left the congested six blocks or so of the downtown area, we were in the wild. The waters of Lake Huron on our right, and the woods and cliffs of the island to our left. Other riders were out  too. Mostly the island residents and summer workers,who ride big old coaster bikes with fat tires and wire baskets on the handlebars. A few were tourists like us. We stood out with our cycling clothes, helmets and lights. The island regulars don’t bother with those niceties. Anyone who spends a summer on Mackinac Island gets to know that eight-mile trip around the Island like the back of their hand and doesn’t need lights to find their way.

Still a little daylight over Lake Huron; ferry-boat in the distance (© Huffygirl 2012)

There was still a little light in the sky when we started out, but by the time we’d ventured a few miles it was pretty dark. We met a couple who told us there would be fireworks in St. Ignace that night. We were taking our time biking, afraid to go too fast with only our little headlights lighting the way, so we figured we’d be to the north side of the island in time to see the fireworks.

Huffygirl, wearing white for safety, and the last glow of the sunset over Lake Michigan (© Huffygirl 2012)

By the time we reached the far side of the island, it was pitch dark. We could barely see the lights of St. Ignace, about five miles away on the coast of the upper peninsula. Soon the fireworks started and we stood arm in arm on the rocky beach, watching the free show. The five-mile distance made for an unusual show. We’d see the sky light up with the colorful explosion in silence, then heard the booms of the fireworks as each display fizzled out.

The lights of St. Ignace, barely visible.

Once the show was done, we headed back to town. Small animals scurried across the road in front of us from time to time, but without mishap. Our headlights made eerie shadows on the trees. When the rocky beach on our right turned to wooded shores, we were plunged into a totally dark path, our headlights almost useless. Maybe that’s why the island regulars don’t bother to use them. If we were riding at night at home we’d have to worry about hitting deer crossing the road, but not a problem here. Deer no longer populate this island. Our biggest worry was running into another rider, as most bikes did not have lights.

Once back in the glow of street lights of the town, we headed up the hill for a nighttime look at the Grand Hotel. The “host” who stands guard during the day to keep the unsightly bikers away from the front of the hotel, had finally retired. The steepish downhill ride back down to the main street seemed more exciting in the dark, but probably safer with the clutch of daytime tourists and horse-drawn cabs gone for the night.

The grandeur of the Grand Hotel in daylight (© Huffygirl 2012)

This summer we plan to be back. We’ll be night riders again, but this time not so wary. This time we’ll venture farther from the safe island perimeter, up the hills into the deeper, more deserted  parts of the island. And we’ll bring a better camera next time to capture more of the adventure.

The night riders. (© Huffygirl 2012)

© Huffygirl 2012

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